Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ushuaia, Argentina...The End of the World

Danielle and I took another side trip from Buenos Aires; this time to Ushuaia which is the most southerly city in the whole world and the jumping off point for Antarctica. Port Williams, Chile disputes Ushuaia's claim, as technically P. Williams is farther south but apparently it consists mostly of a military base and the few stores that services said base. Ushuaia's argument is that does not constitute a city.

It truly is "El Fin de Mundo" or the End of the World.

It is about a 2 or so hour flight from BA and not too expensive. If you go, I would plan on spending 2, maybe 3 days.

A taxi from the airport to town is cheap (you definitely don't need a car here) and we stayed at Hotel Austral which was one of my two favorite hotels in South America. It's a good price and very near the downtown area.

One of the things we were most excited to do was do a penguin rookery tour. We used Pira Tour, which is the only tour that is allowed to let passengers out on the island where the penguins live. Others have to moor off-shore. You can book this tour at the pier, although space is limited and it is popular so you may want to book in advance or online.

The tour begins with a 1.5 hour bus ride to an estancia (ranch) where you board a boat to go to the penguin colony. DRESS WARM! It is seriously freezing and the boat is open air. The winds that come off Antarctica are serious and face numbing.

But when you get there and get to walk among the penguins (penguinos in Spanish) it is truly amazinfg (although a bit stinky). You can get about 3 feet away from them and Pira Tours really emphasizes conservationism. In Spanish they say, "Tocamos con los ojos no con los manos"--We touch with our eyes not with our hands.

During the tour, you also get to stop at the famous bent tree that's in all the National Geographic photos and postcards. See what I mean about it being windy. Look what it did to that poor tree.....

At the Visitor Center you can also get your passport "officially" stamped with an Ushaia stamp.

We also did the Beagle Channel tour (yes, it's named after the ship Charles Darwin made famous); you can book this tour at the pier. This tour isn't as cold as the penguins because the boat is enclosed with outdoor viewing areas. On this tour you'll see a colony of sea lions, the "lighthouse at the end of the world" which isn't really the one Jules Verne wrote about but everyone thinks it is and also a really smelly bird colony. Come to think of it, the sea lions were pretty stinky too.

You also get to get out on of the islands and the guide explains about the indigenous people and also about the plant and animal life in the area as well as telling you some of the history of the area. We did ours in Spanish but they speak English.

Back on dry land, Danielle suggested we check out the Yamana Indian museum, which I didn't think I was really going to like but it was fabulous. The Yamana are the original people of that area and they gave the area it's name. Because it's so freaking cold down there, the Yamana would always have a fire lit (even a small one in their fishing boats) so European settlers, who saw all these fires from their boats, named the region "Tierra del Fuego" or Land of Fire.

The Yamana also didn't wear clothes which seems at odd with the harsh environment, but we learned that if they wore clothes while fishing, the clothes would get wet and freeze. So the Yamana would cover their bodies with animal fat and grease, thereby water-proofing themselves.

The last thing we did besides drinking alot of beer in the 2 Irish pubs there was to go to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Foreigners have to pay while Argentinians get in free which is kind of weird. But on the van ride there, we were offered a drink of mate, which is the national obsession there. This doesn't sound weird until you realize everyone drinks out of the same metal straw that is attached to the cup. No one there thinks this is weird. Apparently there are no germaphobes in South America.

The park was really nice although we couldn't do the hike we wanted. Trails were not marked all that well and we were nervous about getting lost and dying in the Argentinian wilderness.

Ushuaia is the farthest I've ever been from home and if you can do it, I highly recommend it. It's amazing to me that people can survive and adapt to such harsh conditions (the town has a population of around 64,000).

One thing that was interesting to me was how angry the Argentinians still are about the Falklands War with Britain in the early 80's. While largely forgotten in England, the Argentinians still have banners proclaiming, "Las Malvinas son Argentina" --the Falklands are Argentina. Kinda strange but we also happened to be there on a local holiday and saw a parade in which trucks had been shrink-wrapped with the same slogan.


  1. yay! That trip was so fun, and so damn cold. I really enjoyed the hotel and the museum, too. One thing I remember about the Yamana indians was that they had evolved something different with their blood that prevented them from feeling cold as much as other humans do. AMAZING.

    I want to go back!

  2. I hate having to be "anonymous" on my own dang blog since Blogger is being such a bitch!

    I didn't remember that about the Indians--interesting. What a fun (and adventorous) trip!

  3. long live Argentina